The First Interstellar Astronauts Will Not Be Human

Our ability to explore the cosmos by direct contact has been limited to a small number of lunar and interplanetary missions. However, the NASA Starlight program points a path forward to send small, relativistic spacecraft far outside our solar system via standoff directed-energy propulsion. These miniaturized spacecraft are capable of robotic exploration but can also transport seeds and organisms, marking a profound change in our ability to both characterize and expand the reach of known life. Here we explore the biological and technological challenges of interstellar space biology, focusing on radiation-tolerant microorganisms capable of cryptobiosis. Additionally, we discuss planetary protection concerns and other ethical considerations of sending life to the stars.